By: Lisa Chambers, MS, CCC-SLP
Lana Dorffer, M.A., CCC-SLP, DCS
“Communication is the essence of human life.”
The theme of Better Hearing and Speech Month for 2020 is “Communication at Work” – a fitting topic for the current state of healthcare where communication is essential to saving lives. As we continue to navigate through this unprecedented time together, we are thankful for our Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and all our employees who are on the frontlines of the pandemic working nonstop to keep our most vulnerable population safe while also providing quality and meaning to their patient’s days.
What does a speech language pathologist do?
The primary goal of an SLP is to assess, diagnose, prevent and put together a treatment plan for a variety of communication, cognitive, and swallowing disorders. To become an SLP, one must obtain a master’s degree in the field of speech-language pathology, complete a 9 month clinical fellowship, as well as pass the national exam to receive their certification. A master’s in speech language pathology along with the clinical preparation that accompanies it can be used to prepare for a career in a wide array of practice areas.
The SLP field is so diverse and the professionals so skilled as they need to be creative, understand the identification of critical medical concerns while also utilizing evidence-based means to help an individual. The list can be quite extensive, but the following are some areas an SLP provides guidance:
- Cognition Deficits (attention, memory, sequencing, problem solving, executive functioning)
- Dysphagia (aka “Swallowing Disorders”)
- Language Delays and Disorders
- Speech/Articulation problems
- Alternative Communication
- Oral Motor complications
- Aural Rehab (aka Hearing)
- Resonance problems
- Fluency issues
Our speech language pathologists provide care for patients in Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF), Assisted Living Facilities (AL), Home Health (HH), and In-Home environments. Often, commonalities seen in these resident treatment plans include cognitive staging to ensure a patient’s best ability to function, cognitive communicative exercises, and adaptations in their environment. SLPs provide communication interventions, swallowing assessments with compensatory strategies, and altered diet consistency recommendations. All these things improve individual success and help to decrease potential rehospitalizations for the patient.
A Day in the Life of an SLP in a SNF setting
Today’s SNFs offer a variety of skilled rehabilitation pathways to improve an individual’s quality of life. An SLP needs to stay on their toes since their day moves quickly between many different issues. Time is often spent on being a diagnostician with medical chart reviews, following up on testing, and conversing with all departments in the building to determine next steps. Throughout the course of a day, SLPs can address swallowing disorders, staging for a patient with cognitive declines, working on vocal cord adduction to decrease aspiration risk, aphasia word retrieval exercises, and constructing a communication board for a patient unable to communicate verbally. All these actions also need to be documented accurately to reflect a skilled service. After an SLP assesses and determines the best approach for treatment, they then develop a customized treatment plan with objective goals. Treatment plans developed by an SLP encompass more than just the diagnosis; they include successful ways to promote understanding and carry-over in a resident’s current environment and with caregivers. Some examples of these objectives in a SNF setting are the following:
- Assessment and modifications of diet textures/liquids in order to decrease risk of aspiration and promote safe intake for a resident
- Promote education of strategies/environmental adaptations with special instructions of verbal, visual, and tactile cues for carryover in facility and caregivers
- Promote meaningful treatments and foster communication of wants/needs of resident within daily tasks which may include receptive/expressive language exercises or an understanding of hearing ability with use of hearing aids.
- Cognitive staging to promote appropriate expectations across therapy disciplines and facility departments understanding the resident’s best ability to function in all aspects of care. Our Blue Sky Therapy SLPs rely on the MIND Program to promote this approach which is proprietary to Blue Sky
What’s Not to Love about being an SLP?
There is no such thing as a job completely free of daily stressors - but there are some jobs that seem to have the magic blend of helping others, working as a detective, being a team player, flexibility, constant mental stimulation and the best one - personal satisfaction. SLPs are known for being highly educated leaders for most collaborative teams.
Many SLPs have a gift. It is seen in the way they interact daily with residents. An SLP is a mix of serious problem solver and compassionate caregiver who “digs deep” to provide meaning in a resident’s day all rolled into one. We see these gifts each day with our Blue Sky Therapy Speech Language Pathologists.
SLP Patient Success Story
The MIND program promotes so many positives - having the ability to connect with someone on a personal level helps achieve better outcomes in many therapeutic settings. The MIND program ensures that our SLPs are digging deep to figure out an individual’s interests to promote meaningful interactions using a "Can Do, Will Do, May Do" model. We may not be able to completely rehabilitate cognitive abilities but we are able to promote Best Ability to Function and ensure quality of life to individuals who have a story themselves.
I will never forget a session I completed that involved inviting family members into the facility for one of my residents to make a German crepe recipe from the family cookbook. My resident came from Germany and was very focused on this cookbook because it brought back such fond memories of years gone by and her ability to feel productive by making her family a meal. The act of presence, hands working together, eating, and delicious smells awakened memories and captured a wonderful moment that family will always cherish. Those moments are what it really is all about - human connection. This resident was able to communicate in ways that hadn’t been seen in weeks by promoting a topic that held her attention and interest. It also promoted decreased use of psychotropic medications. From that day forward the facility was able to utilize this interest to engage this resident ongoing.
About Blue Sky Therapy
Blue Sky Therapy delivers innovative physical, occupational, and speech therapy services in skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health care, in-home therapy, and outpatient therapy clinics. Our newest service line, Teletherapy, allows our therapists to work with patients virtually at home instead of in the clinic.